VOLUME 24 NUMBER 14
Here at Fleming & Curti, PLC, our standard estate planning service includes not just your will, but a financial power of attorney and a health care power of attorney. We also ask whether you would like to be an organ donor at death. Your response may reflect your religious traditions, experience with a friend or family member who was an organ transplant recipient, or even your professional history.
For clients who say “yes,’ we prepare a health care power of attorney that includes your willingness to donate your body for transplantation, research or study. But that might mean any of several different things. For some clients it might mean organ donation (corneas, kidneys, heart and lungs) to a living transplant recipient. To others, it might be tissue donation to medical researchers. Still others might mean a donation of their whole body for use in training new doctors.
Tucson residents have at least the options we describe here. If you don’t live in or near Tucson, your available choices may be different.
Willed Body Donation Program
This program, available through the University of Arizona, allows for the donation of the entire body. Since the program calls for donation of the whole body, candidates may not also be tissue or organ donors. There is an exception if only the donor’s corneas have been donated.
The willed body donation focuses on medical training and education at the University of Arizona’s medical school campuses, or possibly at other accredited educational institutions. For example, it might be used for continuing education programs for health care professionals.
The program is available to Arizona residents who have registered with the Willed Body Donation Program, and who die in Arizona. At the completion of the program, the donor’s body is cremated and the ashes are scattered – remains are not returned to the donor’s family, and the family is not informed how the donation was used.
A whole body donation may not be accepted if the donor died as a result of severe trauma. Similarly, recent surgery or certain communicable diseases (like tuberculosis, MRSA, sepsis, HIV/AIDs, or hepatitis) may lead the program to reject the donation. If the donor was obese; or if the donor’s family objects, the program may decline at the time of death. A donation may be declined if the facility is at capacity, or if too much time has elapsed between the donor’s death and notification given to the Willed Body Donation Office.
There is no enrollment cost. If the donation cannot be completed, however, the donor’s family will be responsible for making alternative arrangements. We have had a number of clients select this program, feeling like they are making one final contribution to the community.
The donor, him or herself, must complete the donation forms; no one can make the donation on your behalf. Forms for registering with the Willed Body Program are available at the University of Arizona’s body donation website.
Science Care (formerly Life Legacy)
Earlier this year, Science Care took over the operations of the Life Legacy Foundation. This program is available in several states, including Arizona. Science Care says that it works with medical universities, medical researchers and medical device companies around the world. It is a “non transplant tissue bank.” The donation is completed within 3-5 weeks, and the donor’s body is then cremated.
Under this program, the donor’s ashes are returned to the donor’s family. The donor’s family also receives a letter informing them how the donor’s tissue was used.
Donors in some states, including Arizona, can pre-register with Science Care. The donor will be assessed at the time of death, and if the donation is accepted, there is no charge for transportation, cremation, and return of the donor’s ashes.
Donors must be 18 or over to register, but there is no upper age limit on donations. Science Care has special programs for prospective donors receiving hospice care and for veterans of the U.S. armed services. With advance arrangements, a Science Care donor can also an organ donor.
Donor Network of Arizona and the Donate Life AZ Registry
The Donor Network of Arizona works with Arizona hospitals to coordinate donation of organs and tissue. When a person dies in an Arizona hospital, the hospital consults the Donate Life AZ Registry to check for organ donor registration. If the patient is not registered they may ask family members to consider a donation. With permission, the Donor Network works to find transplant matches on a national waiting list. Organs are allocated based on need and proximity. If they accept the donation, the Donor Network of Arizona assumes all costs associated with organ and tissue transplantation.
Many people register as an organ donor through the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles but you can also register online at the Donate Life AZ Registry. If you have registered through DMV your license will include a red heart symbol. Donors under the age of 18 need a parent or guardian’s consent in order to register. The Arizona registry is part of a nationwide program. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services collects interesting information about donor networks across the country.
So, a couple of things stand out for us. First, it is important to register in advance, and communicate your wishes to your family and your health care providers. Second, we think you should have a back up plan, in case the donation cannot be completed. For this reason, we often include a cremation directive in the health care power of attorney. We may also suggest an authorization for organ donation.
Before registering, think about what you want to accomplish with the donation. Do you want to help train new doctors, provide for a transplant patient, or assist in medical research that has the potential to affect many people? Finally, be aware that some programs return cremated remains to the donor’s family, and some do not.